Fort Worth — Just because the Fort Worth Symphony’s end-of-summer festival was filled with familiar works by very familiar composers (Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven), doesn’t mean they were delivered in ho-hum performances. Both the orchestra and conductor were at the top of their game and the two soloists that I heard were magnificent.
Here’s my review of principal clarinetist Ana Victoria Luperi’s superb performance the Mozart Clarinet Concerto. (We will miss her, but wish her all success as she moves on.)
The program opened with Haydn’s overture to his opera L’infedeltà delusa. What! Not in your collection? Not a surprise. Haydn wrote 10 operas but virtually none of them are performed today, although most have been recorded and there seems to be some interest stirring.
Except for the last one, which was written for London, all were written for the opera house he ran at Eszterháza, the amazingly grand countryside court of Prince Eszterházy in Fertőd, Hungary. The palace has been compared to Versailles. Haydn’s job, as court composer, was sort of like the job of the pastry chef (although he was much more elevated). He provided music when needed and the chef provided cakes.
Eszterháza, the extravagant castle and grounds, was in the boonies, and a swamp at that. The whole court traveled with the prince from castle to castle back then. The resident lords and ladies had nothing to do in the evening, which could cause lots of troubles. So Haydn put on concerts, plays, operas and other sundry entertainments. On Sundays, he produced religious works.
For a special occasion, he had to do something spectacular. The opera from which the overture was gleaned was written for a very special occasion: the name day of the Dowager Princess Eszterházy. Haydn must have liked it, because it was revived when the exalted Empress Maria Theresa visited.
An aside: Maria Theresa was the only female ruler of the Hapsburg’s extensive lands. She is also the leading character in Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss. Her full title is at the end of this review.
This overture is a jaunty affair, as befits a comedy about two lovers with a disapproving father and lots of disguises to get the two together. The FWSO gave it an appropriately jaunty performance.
Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 in G minor followed. This is known as the “little G minor” as opposed to the famous one in the same key. This symphony is not a jaunty affair. The 17-year-old composer wanted to show that he was a finished product in his tender years (which he was) and wrote this symphony in the fashionable Strum und Drang (Storm and stress) style, a forerunner of the quickly approaching Romantic era.
Harth-Bedoya was at his best in this performance. No longer the wild man of yesteryear, he conducted carefully and clearly, keeping his controlled and expressive beat within the frame of his body. But, what was really exceptional is how he conducted the flow of the music rather than beating out the time signatures. He shaped the flow of the music as if it was something physical. However, he was right there for the players every time he was needed. For example, switching between a busy four-pattern to a more sweeping two, back and forth as needed (first movement).
This brings us to the performance of Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto by reigning Cliburn Gold Medalist, Vadym Kholodenko.
Beethoven starts this concerto with the solo piano quietly playing four chords: the familiar short-short-short-long that he favored at the time (such as the fifth symphony). Right from these chords, the audience knew this was going to be special. Beethoven writes a “p” (soft) and adds the word dulce (sweet) as a modifier. Kholodenko played them softly, maybe even dulce as well, but he played them with a seriousness born out of knowing the end of the concerto’s story. Maybe like “Once upon a time” in front of a serious tale.
His performance was brimming with details making familiar passages sound new, reveling a fresh view of the music, no matter how familiar one is with the concerto. One especially noticeable thing was his careful attention to dynamics. This is not about his careful observation of soft or loud where marked. (This may sound obvious but even this basic difference is often ignored these days.)
Kholodenko’s dynamics go way beyond these terms. He lets his right hand take the solo while the left plays the accompaniment: like he is his own collaborative pianist. When the melodic material is the top note for a chord, he brings it out slightly louder that the other three notes. This is rarely heard.
Further, Kholodenko’s performance took into consideration something of historical interest. Beethoven wrote this concerto for a new and improved piano, which added three strings to each note in the middle of the keyboard, resulting in a fuller sound. But the real innovation was the una corda pedal that would shift the key hammer to fewer of these strings, muting the sound. Beethoven even made some notes about when to use it in the score of the concerto. Both of Kholodenko’s feet were busy all through the performance, getting maximum color out of the combination of the una corda and sustaining pedals.
Throughout, he was all business. Beethoven-style business, that is. He sat upright at the piano with very little body movement but with palpable intensity of concentration. How refreshing in an era of artists with extravagant physical maneuvers.
Kholodenko was the obvious winner in the 2013 Cliburn, right from the first round. He continues to astound.
» Our review of Concert 1 of this series
» Our review of Concert 2 of this series
OH: As promised, here are the titles of Maria Theresa, taken from her biography by Karl A. Roider. Was she ever introduced like this? Or worse, introduced herself to a newcomer. Can you imagine?
“Hi, I’m Maria Theresa, by the Grace of God, Dowager Empress of the Romans, Queen of Hungary, of Bohemia, of Dalmatia, of Croatia, of Slavonia, of Galicia, of Lodomeria, Archduchess of Austria; Duchess of Burgundy, of Styria, of Carinthia and of Carniola; Grand Princess of Transylvania; Margravine of Moravia; Duchess of Brabant, of Limburg, of Luxemburg, of Guelders, of Württemberg, of Upper and Lower Silesia, of Milan, of Mantua, of Parma, of Piacenza, of Guastalla, of Auschwitz and of Zator; Princess of Swabia; Princely Countess of Habsburg, of Flanders, of Tyrol, of Hainault, of Kyburg, of Gorizia and of Gradisca; Margravine of Burgau, of Upper and Lower Lusatia; Countess of Namur; Lady of the Wendish Mark and of Mechlin; Dowager Duchess of Lorraine and Bar, Dowager Grand Duchess of Tuscany.”